Vegan butcher shop team envisions a destination for vegans and rescued animals alike
Behind the counter at Herbivorous Butcher, there are cuts of bacon, ribs and even porterhouse steaks. Yet, there aren’t any animals in these “meat-free meats.”
Owners Kale and Aubry Walch are now going a step further in their goal of saving animals, many of which consumers may otherwise eat. The two vegans will soon open a farm to serve as a refuge for animals and a destination for people to see veganism and the ethics surrounding the animal-free diet in action.
“It’s really just a way to show people how animals should live their lives,” Aubry Walch said.
The sanctuary, dubbed Herbivorous Acres, is set to open this fall in Milaca, Minnesota, a small town about an hour’s drive north of Minneapolis. For the past year-and-a-half, the brother-and-sister team have grown their vegan brand out of a shop in the Nicollet Island-East Bank neighborhood near Northeast Minneapolis.
The idea for a sanctuary, now a separate volunteer-run nonprofit, came from a customer from the shop’s days as a stand at local farmers markets. That’s how they connected with Marie DuCharme, a customer with a similar dream of starting a farm sanctuary. Years later and DuCharme is now the volunteer executive director of Herbivorous Acres.
Walch said they took inspiration from Farm Sanctuary locations in California and New York, large rural farms where people go on tours and interact with animals. For the animals, the organizations provide an alternative lifestyle to factory farming, an industry that Walch said separates consumers from animals they eat. It’s why she became a vegan in the first place. As a young teenager, Walch worked in a grocery store where she found herself troubled by commodified meat.
“It’s starting to marry everything together,” she said.
It’s their expectation Herbivorous Acres won’t draw just vegans, but omnivores who may leave considering a lifestyle that’s not dependent on animals. Most of the shop’s customers are omnivores who eat meat, and Walch said they hope to host young students on field trips. An authentic interaction with barnyard animals may lead to more empathy despite the disconnect, she added.
“I feel if someone can sit with an animal and look at them, it’ll be like hanging out with their dog. That’s what it’s like. They’re just fun creatures,” she said.
The team is getting a head start with the farm. They close Sept. 1 on a total of 35 acres, including 15 acres of developed farmland. There are already two homes, three barns, silos and a horse arena on the property. DuCharme and volunteers will stay in one house and the other will be for guests to rent via Airbnb. Later, they plan to add tiny homes and cabins for rental and further increase the farm’s footprint. Walch said they hope to even host vegan weddings and vegan celebrities for events.
“We’re hoping to buy up the land around it so we can really, really expand. We want to make it a cool destination,” she said.
There are plenty of residents already on the property. Walch said they have two miniature donkeys, a miniature horse, two horses, 15 chickens, three farm cats and a blind farm dog. They’ve already rescued two pigs, which are being fostered by families before heading to Herbivorous Acres. Future residents may come in the form of weak beef cattle or turkeys that fall from a truck.
Herbivorous Acres will bring new opportunities to showcase the shop’s small-batch meat alternatives and dairy-free cheeses through farm table dinners and catered events. Walch said it was a “no brainer” to have their products used in the culinary experiences at the sanctuary.
“People will always know that Herbivorous Butcher food will be there,” she said.
They plan to convert a motorcycle-themed bar on the farm into a dining space. Because most beers are vegan, Herbivorous Acres will have several brews from Minneapolis micro-breweries on tap.
Herbivorous Acres is slated to open Oct. 21, which will see grand opening events like a yoga breakfast and a haunted house.
The team is trying to raise $100,000 to open the sanctuary and cover its first operating expenses. More information is available at herbivorousacres.org.
The farm isn’t the only expansion for the Herbivorous brand in the works. Walch said they will soon release more details on opening new shop and restaurant locations in other states.
“We have a lot really great culinary minds in the kitchen so we’re very excited to develop food for the other locations and restaurants,” she said.